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Acton Institute

Coordinates: 42°57′46.7″N 85°39′58.9″W / 42.962972°N 85.666361°W / 42.962972; -85.666361
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Acton Institute
Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty
Formation1990 (34 years ago) (1990)
Legal status501(c)(3)
Purposecivil policy think tank
Kris Alan Mauren
David Humphreys
Revenue (2018)
Expenses (2018)$10,887,803[1]
Websitewww.acton.org Edit this at Wikidata

The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty is an American research and educational institution,[2] or think tank, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, (with an office in Rome) whose stated mission is "to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles".[3] Its work supports free market economic policy framed within Judeo-Christian morality.[4][5] It has been alternately described as conservative[6][7][8] and libertarian.[9][10][11] Acton Institute also organizes seminars "to educate religious leaders of all denominations, business executives, entrepreneurs, university professors, and academic researchers in economics principles."[12]


Acton founders Robert Sirico (left) and Kris Mauren (right) with Ronald Reagan in his library

The Acton Institute was founded in 1990 in Grand Rapids, Michigan by Robert A. Sirico and Kris Alan Mauren.[13] It is named after the English historian, politician and writer Lord Acton, who is popularly associated with the dictum "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely".[14] The institute is a member of the Atlas Network.[15]

Sirico and Mauren were concerned that many religious people were ignorant of economic realities, and that many economists and businessmen were insufficiently grounded in religious principles.[16] Sirico explained the link between economics and religion with reference to the institute's namesake: "Acton realized that economic freedom is essential to creating an environment in which religious freedom can flourish. But he also knew that the market can function only when people behave morally. So, faith and freedom must go hand in hand. As he put it, 'Liberty is the condition which makes it easy for conscience to govern.'"[17]

The release in 1991 of the papal encyclical Centesimus annus buoyed the institute at a critical time. The document provided, a year after Acton's founding, established support for the institute's economic personalism and defense of capitalism. Robert Sirico said at the time that it constituted a "vindication".[16][18][19]

In 2000, the institute was involved in setting up the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, described by Deutsche Welle and The New Republic as a climate denial group.[20][15]

In 2002, the institute opened a Rome office, Istituto Acton, to carry out Acton's mission abroad.[21] In 2004, the institute was given the Templeton Freedom Award for its "extensive body of work on the moral defense of the free market".[21] In 2012, the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania included Acton in its list of the top 50 think tanks in the United States.[22]

In 2005, Mother Jones published a chart which included the Acton Institute on a list of groups that had received a donation ($155,000) from ExxonMobil.[23] As of 2007, the institute had received funding from the Earhart Foundation and the Bradley Foundation.[24][25] The Grand Rapids Press wrote in 2013 that much of the Acton Institute's funding comes from wealthy residents of western Michigan, including John Kennedy, president and CEO of Autocam Corp., and Amway co-founder Richard DeVos.[26] The New Republic said in 2023 that the Acton Institute "has long pushed a Christian-flavored brand of climate denial".[15]



The Acton Institute is a member of the State Policy Network, a network of free-market oriented think tanks in the United States.[27]

The Acton Institute has built a network of international affiliations including Centro Interdisciplinar de Ética e Economia Personalista, Brazil, Europa Institut, Austria, Institute for the Study of Human Dignity and Economic Freedom, Zambia and Instituto Acton Argentina Organization.[28]

Research and publications


From its guiding principles and economic research, the institute publishes books, papers, and periodicals, and maintains a media outreach effort.[2][29]

  • Monographs: In-depth treatments of specific policy issues and translations of scholarly works previously unpublished in English.[29][24][32]
  • Religion & Liberty: Quarterly publication which covers the interworking of liberty and morality: contains interviews, book reviews, scholarly essays, brief biographies of central thinkers, and discussions of important topics.[18][24]
  • The Samaritan Guide: Through 2008, the institute gave an annual Samaritan Award to a "highly successful, privately funded charity whose work is direct, personal, and accountable".[36] The Samaritan Guide was produced to encourage effective charitable giving by establishing a rating system for charities considered for the Samaritan Award.[37]
  • Acton Notes: The bimonthly newsletter of the Acton Institute; contains reports of projects and goings on at the institute.[38]
  • The Acton PowerBlog: Since April 2005 the institute has provided a synthesis of religion and economics on its blog.[39]
  • Christian's Library Press: Christian's Library Press was established in 1979 by Gerard Berghoef and Lester DeKoster. The Acton Institute has administered the imprint since 2009.


The Call of the Entrepreneur official movie poster

Films produced by the Acton Institute include The Call of the Entrepreneur (2007), The Hong Konger: Jimmy Lai's Extraordinary Struggle for Freedom (2022) and Poverty, Inc. (2014), which won a 2014 Templeton Freedom Award from the Atlas Network.[40] Poverty Inc. is part of the Acton Institute's PovertyCure initiative, which seeks to create solutions to poverty by "moving efforts from aid to enterprise and from paternalism to partnerships."[41]

The Hong Konger: Jimmy Lai's Extraordinary Struggle for Freedom


The Hong Konger was produced along with Iron Light Labs. It premiered in 2022.[42]

The main subject of the documentary is Jimmy Lai, a Hong Kong businessman and entrepreneur known for his media and fashion businesses: Giordano, Next Media, and Apple Daily. The film covers Lai's struggles with the mainland Chinese government that caused him to sell Giordano and then later focus exclusively on his media companies. The film portrays Lai as a leader in advancing civil rights and freedom in Hong Kong, and as a key figure in supporting independence for Hong Kong from mainland China. Lai was convicted of violating the Hong Kong national security law—a highly controversial law that criminalizes speech dissenting from that of the official Chinese Communist Party doctrine—on December 10 2022, and was sentenced to 5 years and 9 months in prison.[43][44][45][46]

Kyle Smith of The Wall Street Journal described the movie as portraying "Jimmy Lai’s Moral Heroism."[47] Jack Wolfsohn of National Review said the film "sends a vital message about the importance of preserving liberty and fighting tyranny".[45]

The Call of the Entrepreneur


The Call of the Entrepreneur was produced along with Cold Water Media. It premiered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, US on May 17, 2007.[48][49]

The main subjects of the documentary are Brad Morgan, Frank Hanna, and Jimmy Lai.[50] Morgan, a dairy farmer from Evart, Michigan discusses his journey from a struggling dairy farmer to the owner and operator of a million-dollar composting operation. Hanna, a merchant banker in New York City who originally hails from Georgia, explains how financial engineering not only makes credit more widely available to entrepreneurs today but also played a crucial role in the discovery of America. Lai talks about his childhood in Communist China and his move at twelve years old to Hong Kong. There, he founded Giordano, a retail outlet, and later Next Media. Lai explains that entrepreneurs, when taking risks, are "dashing into hope."[third-party source needed] The documentary also contains information from experts in the field of economics, including Rev. Robert Sirico, founder and president of the Acton Institute, Samuel Gregg, Jay Richards, George Gilder, and Michael Novak.[third-party source needed]

Entrepreneur called it "a non-stop barrage of uplifting tales" and wrote that Morgan's story was "inspiring" and "enough to remind you that our society thrives on entrepreneurial ideas."[49] Fortune Small Business was more negative, writing, "With no critical analysis, few sources cited outside of the Acton Institute, and no concrete counter-examples examined, it's difficult to see the documentary as anything more than an infomercial for Acton's libertarian religious doctrine aimed at those already inclined to agree with it."[50]



Besides Sirico, people associated with the institute include Anthony Bradley,[51] Jordan Ballor,[52] Stephen Grabill,[53] Michael Matheson Miller,[54] Marvin Olasky,[55] Kevin Schmiesing,[56] and Jonathan Witt.[57] The institute's director of research is Samuel Gregg, author of the prize-winning book The Commercial Society.[58] Andreas Widmer is a research fellow in entrepreneurship for the research department.[59]

Current and former members of the institute's board of directors include Alejandro Chafuen, former president of the Atlas Network; Gaylen Byker, president emeritus of Calvin College; Sean Fieler, Equinox Partners; Leslie Graves, president of the Lucy Burns Institute; Frank Hanna III of Hanna Capital; and Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute.[60]



As of 2018 the Acton Institute had total assets of $16,064,623.[1]

Funding details


See also



  1. ^ a b c d "Acton Institute" (PDF). Candid. Retrieved 12 October 2020.
  2. ^ a b c Andrews, Cory (2006), "Acton Institute", American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia, Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, p. 8
  3. ^ "About the Acton Institute". Acton Institute. Archived from the original on 24 October 2010. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  4. ^ Burke, Greg (8 September 1991). "The Market & Liberty". National Catholic Register. North Haven, CT.
  5. ^ Worrall, Malika (20 December 2007). "New film promotes entrepreneurship as divine". Fortune Small Business. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  6. ^ Leland, John (27 March 2005). "Did Descartes Doom Terri Schiavo?". The New York Times.
  7. ^ Stammer, Larry B. (7 April 2001). "Bush Turn on Treaty Galvanizes New Green Coalition". Los Angeles Times.
  8. ^ McBrien, Father Richard P. (29 May 2005). "Pope chronicles". Los Angeles Times.
  9. ^ Gibson, David (29 April 2014). "Conservatives squawk over pope's tweet on inequality". Religion News Service.
  10. ^ Gibson, David (10 September 2014). "Regensburg Redux: Was Pope Benedict XVI right about Islam?". Religion News Service.
  11. ^ Henneberger, Melinda (6 June 2014). "Can you be Catholic and libertarian?". The Washington Post.
  12. ^ "Profile". guidestar.org. Retrieved 24 April 2020.
  13. ^ Convissor, Kate (August 1999). The Acton Institute: Of Morality & the Marketplace. Grand Rapids Magazine. pp. 36–37.
  14. ^ Sullivan, Elizabeth (February 1993). "Rev. Robert Sirico: Inside Track." Grand Rapids Business Journal: 5–6.
  15. ^ a b c Westervelt, Amy; Dembicki, Geoff (12 September 2023). "Meet the Shadowy Global Network Vilifying Climate Protesters". The New Republic. ISSN 0028-6583. Retrieved 16 September 2023.
  16. ^ a b Coulter, Michael F., ed. (2007), "Acton Institute", Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought, Social Science, and Social Policy, vol. 1, Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, pp. 5–7
  17. ^ Koshelnyk, William J. (1996). "Separation of Church and ... Capitalism". The American Voice. Vol. 1, no. 5. pp. 6–7.
  18. ^ a b Bandow, Doug (26 November 1992). "Preaching liberty to the unconverted". The Washington Times. Washington, D.C.
  19. ^ Harger, Jim (1 May 1991). "Free enterprise wins moral victory". The Grand Rapids Press. Grand Rapids, MI.
  20. ^ "Christian groups denying human-induced climate change – DW – 04/09/2013". dw.com. Retrieved 21 February 2024.
  21. ^ a b Acton Institute awarded for work in economics and ethics. The Grand Rapids Press. 13 March 2004.
  22. ^ "2012 Global Go To Think Tanks Report and Policy Advice" (PDF). Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, University of Pennsylvania. 24 January 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 June 2013.
  23. ^ "Put a Tiger in Your Think Tank". Mother Jones. Retrieved 30 April 2016.
  24. ^ a b c d "Liberty, Economics, and the Clergy". Organization Trends. Washington, D.C.: Capital Research Center. July 1992.
  25. ^ R., Mosey (2009). 2030, the coming tumult: unlimited growth on a finite planet. City: Algora Publishing. pp. 166–167. ISBN 978-0-87586-744-1.
  26. ^ Harger, Jim (22 February 2013). "Acton Institute's financial backing has strong ties to West Michigan's wealthiest families". Grand Rapids Press. MLive. Retrieved 22 December 2015.
  27. ^ "Directory SPN Members". State Policy Network. Archived from the original on 18 March 2015. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  28. ^ "International Affiliates". Archived from the original on 4 July 2011. Retrieved 18 August 2011.
  29. ^ a b Heather Richardson (Spring 1992). "Connecting Morals to Markets". Philanthropy. 6 (2): 4–5.
  30. ^ Rosmini, Antonio (2007). The Constitution under Social Justice. Lexington Books. ISBN 978-0-7391-0725-6.
  31. ^ "Journal of Markets & Morality". Acton Institute. Archived from the original on 6 November 2012. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  32. ^ Baker, Hunter (24 January 2011). "Jordan Ballor on Ecumenical Babel". Mere Comments (Touchstone Magazine). Archived from the original on 26 June 2011. Retrieved 21 July 2011.
  33. ^ Kopenkoskey, Paul R. (28 May 2011). "'Grace' translation under way". The Grand Rapids Press. pp. C1–C2.
  34. ^ "Acton Institute and Kuyper College launch 'Common Grace,' a major Abraham Kuyper translation project" (Press release). The Acton Institute. 19 April 2011. Archived from the original on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 23 August 2011.
  35. ^ "Christian's Library Press Launches New Kuyper Book in San Francisco and Grand Rapids" (Press release). Christian's Library Press. 15 November 2011. Retrieved 15 November 2011.[permanent dead link]
  36. ^ "Award – The Samaritan Guide". Archived from the original on 15 July 2011. Retrieved 4 August 2011.
  37. ^ Olasky, Marvin (1 September 2007). "Fighting the Good Poverty Fight". WORLD Magazine. Asheville, NC.
  38. ^ "Acton Notes". Archived from the original on 4 July 2011. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
  39. ^ Couretas, John (4 April 2005). "Welcome to the Acton Institute PowerBlog". Acton Institute. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  40. ^ Harger, Jim (13 November 2015). "Acton Institute film about poverty wins $100,000 Templeton Freedom Award". Grand Rapids Press. MLive. Retrieved 23 December 2015.
  41. ^ Chafuen, Alejandro (20 February 2013). "From Aid To Enterprise: How To Intelligently Cure Poverty". Forbes. Retrieved 23 December 2015.
  42. ^ "The Hong Konger: Jimmy Lai's Extraordinary Struggle for Freedom". The Hong Konger Movie. 4 October 2021. Retrieved 26 May 2023.
  43. ^ Smith, Kyle (18 May 2023). "'The Hong Konger' Review: Jimmy Lai's Moral Heroism". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 26 May 2023.
  44. ^ "The Hong Konger Documentary Is a Lesson on Freedom". National Review. 8 June 2022. Retrieved 26 May 2023.
  45. ^ a b "Watch The Hong Konger, about Jimmy Lai, Whose Trial Looms". National Review. 2 December 2022. Retrieved 26 May 2023.
  46. ^ "The Hong Konger: Jimmy Lai's Extraordinary Struggle for Freedom". The Hong Konger Movie. 4 October 2021. Retrieved 26 May 2023.
  47. ^ Smith, Kyle (18 May 2023). "'The Hong Konger' Review: Jimmy Lai's Moral Heroism". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 26 May 2023.
  48. ^ "Acton Institute's 'Call of the Entrepreneur' Documentary to Premiere in Grand Rapids". PR Newswire. Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  49. ^ a b Ohngren Prior, Kara (1 October 2012). "10 Must-See Documentaries for Entrepreneurs". Entrepreneur. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  50. ^ a b Worrall, Malika (20 December 2007). "New film promotes entrepreneurship as divine". Fortune Small Business. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  51. ^ "About Anthony Bradley". Retrieved 5 April 2011.
  52. ^ "Jordan Ballor". Academia. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  53. ^ "Stephen J. Grabill | Effective Stewardship". Archived from the original on 22 June 2012. Retrieved 17 July 2013.
  54. ^ "Michael Matheson Miller". Retrieved 30 April 2016.
  55. ^ "Staff Profile: Marvin Olasky PhD". Acton Institute. Retrieved 30 April 2016.
  56. ^ "Kevin Schmiesing". Crisis Magazine. 22 December 2015. Retrieved 30 April 2016.
  57. ^ "Jonathan Witt - Discovery Institute". Retrieved 30 April 2016.
  58. ^ Gregg, Samuel (2006). The Commercial Society (pbk ed.). Lexington Books. p. 196. ISBN 978-0-7391-1994-5. Retrieved 13 October 2016.
  59. ^ "Andreas Widmer". Catholic Answers. 19 November 2018. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  60. ^ "Our team". Acton Institute. Retrieved 25 April 2019.

42°57′46.7″N 85°39′58.9″W / 42.962972°N 85.666361°W / 42.962972; -85.666361